Wednesday, September 29, 2010

National Coffee Day

Philosophy Over Coffee is a proud endorser of National Coffee Day.

Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are giving away free java today in celebration. But if national chains aren't your thing, just grab a friend or loved one, head to your favorite coffeehouse, and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Love Responds to Love

Let me ask you a question.

If I were to say to Coffeewife one day, "If you ever stop loving me, I'll kill you," what kind of person would you think I am?

What if your spouse, your fiance, your boyfriend or girlfriend, even a parent or close friend, said that to you? Do they seem to have your best interests at heart? They've just threatened you: they will end your life if you ever cease to show them the affection that they think they are entitled to receive. They're dead serious, by the way. They're not playing around. They'll do it. So you'd better keep loving them.

So, how would you respond? Would you say, "okay, I will?" Would you agree to their terms, and keep loving them? Would it really be love? Maybe it was love before, but now that the threat has been made, is it still love? You know the consequences, after all. Stop loving them, and it all ends.

It's an abusive relationship, most of us would say. That person has no right to make that threat. He or she should be reported; locked away so that no one else will ever be terrorized by such statements. The threat-maker doesn't love the other person; he or she just wants to control them. Horrible, unreasonable consequences have been presented here. One shouldn't try to manipulate affections like that. You love who you love; you can't force someone to love another. It's tyrannical and it's not how love works.

And if the person receiving the threat agrees, what about them? Is that love? Again, most of us would say that it isn't. Maybe the person would do his or her best to do things perceived to be loving: helping around the house, showing support, and by all means never leaving or choosing to love someone else. But the basis of all this would be fear. One's very life is at stake; you can't mess around with that.

When I was at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, there were people holding up huge banners at at least two of the entrances. I only remember what the one said: "Turn to Jesus; You're bound for hell." Between bites of my overpriced Philly cheesesteak, I wondered whether anyone was actually responding to this message. I wondered whether anyone actually approached the people holding this banner and said, "Well, I sure don't want to go to hell. And for that reason, I would like to turn to Jesus."

That would be the reason someone would turn to Jesus in this instance, after all. That's the message being presented.

Not, "Turn to Jesus, he reveals God's love."

Not, "Turn to Jesus for peace."

Not, "Turn to Jesus for a new life's purpose."

Turn to Jesus; you're bound for hell. Turn to Jesus to avoid your life ending. Turn to Jesus or face the consequences.

Does that sound like love to you?

I know a person who, every time we have a spiritual conversation, feels the need to talk about God's judgment and punishment. He mostly does this in reaction to the notion that people of other religions have something to teach us, or may be right in their own way. No, he says, they're destined for hell. They don't believe in Jesus, so that's the future that they face. It's actually quite incredible to me that, no matter what else we could be talking about, he finds a way to steer things back to this one point about God punishing non-Christians for not loving Him.

This person is not the point; the worldview is. He is not alone in thinking this way by any means. Placing special emphasis on God's wrath is widespread, perhaps especially in American Christianity. Over the past several weeks, I've been fascinated to notice this in a new way. How healthy is a theology that can only really play this one note? What kind of a god does it reveal?

If God says to us, "If you ever stop loving me, I'll kill you," what kind of god would you think he is?

I hear the objection: but, Jesus did talk about hell. Indeed he did. There are 11 whole references to hell in the Gospels, most of them repeats due to the same teaching about hell being in Matthew, Mark, and Luke ("If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off..."). That's 11 references over four Biblical books. And none of them are in reference to believing in Jesus in order to not be sent there. Instead, they're in reference to faithfulness. They're part of an in-house discussion about faithfulness. Most of the references to hell are part of one teaching about resisting sinful behavior. The other two are directed at the Pharisees for distorting God's message.

Meanwhile, Jesus' main message was this:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." - Mark 1:14-15
The good news is that the kingdom of God has come near. It is a kingdom alternative to the kingdoms of this world. It is a different way of experiencing and interacting with the world. It is a kingdom governed by vastly different values. It is hopeful, peaceful, and governed by love and justice. And it is a kingdom that includes God's eternal presence.

It is also a kingdom that includes transformation. "Repentance" in this kingdom involves changing how we see things, being held accountable, and facing our flaws and sins in honest, bold ways. There is a cost to this relationship, but that cost is rooted in something other than punishment and threats.

In turn, Jesus gives the two greatest commandments thus:
He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." - Matthew 22:36-40
You can't be coerced or threatened into loving someone; into making someone your entire reason for living. No matter how hard you try, a forced love is not love. A love based on threats, punishment, and fear is not love. Genuine love is based on mutuality, thankfulness for the other person, and a desire to honor the relationship.

Luke 7:38-50 tells the story of a sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet. Others grumble about this display of affection, but Jesus observes that what she is doing is in response to the God of forgiveness that she has experienced through him. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." In other words, God first displays love for humanity and creation (God did call it good, after all), and a realization of that inspires a response from the subject of that love.

Rather than due to threats of destruction, punishment, or torture, loving God and neighbor is meant to come from a genuine response to God's love for us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Annual Fall Trip


The Michigan Wolverines battle the Falcons of Bowling Green State University. The last time I went to see them play an Ohio MAC team, it didn't go so well. Hopefully it'll be different this time around, though after last Saturday, who knows?

This is actually the first of two (that's TWO) trips I'll be taking to the Big House this fall.

The weather is supposed to be around 63 degrees and sunny. A beautiful day for some football with 109,000 of my closest friends.

Go Blue!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading The Undertaking. Last week I observed that these stories are as much observations about life as about his profession. I realized after the fact the significance of the subtitle: "Life Studies from the Dismal Trade." Dur hur. I shouldn't have been so surprised once I started reading. At any rate, Lynch devotes an entire chapter to Dr. Kevorkian near the end of the book, or at least the larger issue of assisted suicide. He puts it into the larger issue of being "pro-life," essentially calling for a consistent ethic when approaching such matters. He cites four issues--abortion, assisted suicide, war, and the death penalty--and observes that people who are against the first two are generally in favor of the other two, and vice versa. He observes that choice comes into play for the first two on one "side," while the sanctity of life is highlighted by the other. The sanctity of life is also then cited by people who oppose war and the death penalty. Eventually, he says, "Where choice is enshrined we must suffer the choices. Where life is sacred we must suffer the life." And then somebody reading this says, "Yeah, but it's more complex than that..." and Lynch's frustration with a lack of consistency continues. I found it a thought-provoking chapter, as I think many would.

I'm also back to reading Stories of Emergence, which you probably don't remember I'm reading for a book discussion group that I'm a part of. I'm currently reading the second section, which deal with worldview crises. The chapter that I've found most striking is by Frederica Matthewes-Green, who talks about her journey into and eventually out of feminism. She describes her entrance into the movement; finding a cause to believe in and advocate for. But eventually she's turned off by what she describes as claiming a victim status with an air of superiority (this is her experience, not necessarily true of all feminism everywhere). Eventually, she comes to realize that we're all wrapped up in sinful behaviors and systems together, male and female, with no one better or worse based on gender. This was the most memorable essay in this section for me.

Boardwalk Empire premiered this past Sunday, starring Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, the treasurer of Atlantic City during the start of Prohibition. As it happens, Thompson is also incredibly corrupt, running his own liquor operation alongside pretty much every other elected official in town, as well as the mob. Younger versions of notable gangsters appear, such as Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. This first episode was directed by Martin Scorsese, and it really did have a Sopranos-esque feel to it. Thompson is already being presented as a multi-dimensional character not without some heart, as he seeks to care for a poor pregnant woman (even if, for him, part of that means...um..."removing" her abusive husband). The very last shot of the episode is him visiting her after she lost her child. So clearly, this isn't going to be just a gangster show, much like that other HBO show that I and many others will inevitably compare it to. Having said that, however, I think this show will stand on its own quite well, and those comparisons will fade quickly.

In a moment of "it was at the library and sure why not?", I've listened to Songs in A & E by Spiritualized this week. I'll give it to them that they have quite a musical range, but I found a lot of these tracks to be plodding, short on any groove. I did like a few tracks; "Soul on Fire" is a good one. I tried to imagine a scenario where I would feel the urge to pop in this album, and the only thing I could come up with was when I want to sit in the dark drinking by myself. I don't think many people would consider that an endorsement.

I've also been listening to Ellipse by Imogen Heap this week. A lot of these songs are stripped-down musically, with Heap's voice doing some of the heavy lifting. But unlike Spiritualized's album, they seem to be going somewhere. She does make use of some electronica, which does get heavier along with usage of other instruments. It's not an "acoustic" album by any means...it just has an uncomplicated vibe to it. Think Sarah McLachlan when she appeared with Delerium on the song "Silence."

Finally, I've been listening to Volume Two by She & Him this week. The "she" is Zooey Deschanel, actress in movies such as Yes Man, Almost Famous, and Elf. I'd never really listened to her music before this week, other than the singing she does in some of her movies. The group has a sound reminiscent of mid-60s soul and folk artists, which works very well with Deschanel's voice.

Here's the Ohio University Bobcat mascot tackling Brutus Buckeye:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Day of Fall


"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all."
- Stanley Horowitz

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

That Time I Quit the Internet

Several times, I have thought about quitting the internet. A couple times I actually did for a while.

1997 was the year I really began using it, and it started innocently enough. I'd never had regular access to it until then. But suddenly, this vast network of information (and misinformation), this ability to connect with people and places all over the world, was at my fingertips. I didn't really know what to do with it all at first, so I checked my e-mail, downloaded a couple songs, looked at a few favorite bands' websites, and that was about it.

Eventually, I realized that the website for the United Church of Christ had a discussion forum, and this is when I began my descent into addiction. I use the word "addiction" playfully, but sometimes I wonder.

I got off to a good start when posting there. There's a space called "UCC Cafe" where you can get to know other posters. I talked to a member of Old First Reformed Church in Philadelphia, at which I've stayed several times for mission trips. I asked UCC pastors questions about ordination and what they love about ministry, seeking insight into my own preparations for that calling. I was inquisitive, yet also still in a more conservative place than many of them theologically at the time. This wasn't an issue for a while. And then it was.

The forums eventually added a few theological discussion topics. I can't recall exactly what they were. One was something about the person of Christ, related to his two natures or how his death on the cross contributes to our salvation. Being younger and more naive about the trappings of internet discussion, I jumped in with both feet, allowing myself to get riled up by a few other much more liberal posters who'd belittle and demean anyone a whiff more conservative than themselves. You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? At one point, several posters referred to a focus on Jesus' death as part of atonement as "necrophilia." At another point, I was outright told that if I'd gone before one poster's Church and Ministry committee, she'd deny me ordination. This passes for reasonable internet discourse.

This discussion became so heated that I basically had no choice but to step away. Eventual-Coffeewife had a hand in that as well. Apparently, arguments with faceless people who are hundreds of miles away can affect one's mood and interactions with people immediately around you, including friends and loved ones. She didn't seem to like that I 1) would sit on the computer, scowling while awaiting the next reply, or 2) would sit around scowling while not on the computer, thinking about somebody's most recent reply. Yeah, it was time to let the internet go for a while.

I wish I could tell you that that was the last time something like that ever happened, but it wasn't. Years later, I was in an online argument with a high Calvinist who questioned whether I was even a Christian due to my questioning parts of the Reformed system of belief. My main sticky point in that discussion was the argument that everything that happens is willed by God, including wonderful awesome acts of sovereignty like tornadoes and earthquakes. I pushed back, and before too long I was typing epic replies that took at least half an hour to compose. Once again, Coffeewife was the one who brought me back to my senses with her subtle profundity: "What the hell are you doing, and why are you so angry?" Maybe she didn't exactly say those words, but the tone was there. I once again quit the internet for a while.

There have been lesser cyberarguments that have stirred me up as well, but these stand out to me. From time to time, quitting the internet has been the right and good thing to do.

There is, of course, a common theme to the above discussions: civility didn't last long in either instance. There was a rapid descent into personal attacks, ad hominems, making the discussion about the poster rather than the idea. This is an easy thing to do in a medium with barely any repercussions. If you need to blow off some steam, create an alternative persona, call somebody something that you wouldn't have the cajones to do in real life, you sure can on the internet, and what's anybody really going to do about it?

One of the best observations made to this effect was by a now-former moderator of the UCC forums. In reference to one of the posters I had many back-and-forths with, he said, "If you were having this discussion with him over coffee [OMG LIKE THE BLOG TITLE~!], you probably wouldn't want to throttle him." The reason, he said, was because the tone may not have been what it was to begin with.

Thankfully, I take the internet a lot less seriously than I used to. Sure, Facebook is fun, as is this blog, but I'm not even much of a blog reader any more, and haven't regularly participated in forums in years. Priorities shift, family has grown, ministry keeps me busy, and I just have more preferable hobbies. I get frustrated at learning a hard riff on my bass, I get mad at what I read in books sometimes. There are enough news stories that come out every day for me to be angry about without arguing with people online. Of course, sometimes I vent my spleen on here, but I've regretted some of the worst cases because they seemed pretty counterproductive afterwards.

Nowadays when it comes to the internet, I have a better sense of when to chip in my $.02 to a conversation, and when to walk away entirely. There are more worthwhile things to be concerned about, let alone get upset about. And so do you.

So keep reading. And if I make you mad or if you just disagree, feel free to say so. But let's keep it civil, and make this one of those rare places where respectful internet discourse happens.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch this week. Lynch is a poet and undertaker, and this is a collection of reflections about life and death. When I picked it up, I thought it would be much more about his experiences as an undertaker, but the book is not so narrow. There are many tie-ins, of course, but so far I have the impression that he wants to tie in what he does to life, rather than talk strictly about death. The book is still quite fascinating, as he reflects on how customs have changed over the centuries related to family rituals and the rhythms of life. In one chapter he rightly points out that the whole business of funerals is for the living, as he uses the refrain, "The dead don't care." Lynch is a wonderful writer...I once read that a good writer "writes downhill:" when you read his/her work, it flows so easily and naturally like walking down a hill. Lynch does that.

We watched Couple's Retreat this week, starring Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, and the brunette from Sex in the City as married couples who all go to a resort for a marriage retreat. Each couple has their own distinct problem: one is overwhelmed with family life, one can't conceive, one got pregnant in high school and never "experienced their 20s." The marriage guru, played by Jean Reno, is your typical unorthodox instructor who puts them through strange-yet-comical situations, and ultimately they learn what they need to learn without even realizing it. I called that part of the movie way before the characters caught on, and I can't recall any laugh-out-loud moments. But I will say that Vaughn and Favreau in particular have a way with banter that is always funny.

Both True Blood and Entourage had their season finales on Sunday. True Blood was meh. Sookie discovered she's part faerie during this season, and her blood being desirable to vampires was a major plot point. So in this last episode, Bill tried to take it upon himself to protect her by trying to eliminate everyone else who knew. This backfired, as Eric survived, told Sookie that the reason she ever met Bill to begin with was because he was sent to procure her for the local head vampire, and so Sookie and Bill, in their absolutely annoying and boring on-again, off-again relationship, are now off-again. Buffy the Vampire Slayer being the exception, I pretty much hate every human-falls-in-love-with-vampire story that I have ever encountered, because the author and/or the actors tend to make them so tedious and awful that I end up pining for the vampire to be staked and for the girl to end up with the werewolf.

Entourage was better. Two of the major storylines this season were Vince spiraling down into a hard partying lifestyle that includes a cocaine habit and Ari's treatment of his employees coming back to bite him and his marriage. Unlike previous seasons that presented a problem but then tied it up in a nice happy little bow in the finale, this season followed these things to their natural conclusion, with Vince being confronted by police after they find a small bag of coke and Ari's wife moving out. They reportedly have one last abbreviated season and possibly a movie to explore what happens next, and as horrible as the characters are doing at the moment, I actually feel more satisfied by this show right now than I have in a while.

And once again, here's the new HBO show I'm looking forward to watching this Sunday night:



Here's a guy doing a hilarious Lou Holtz impression:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Your New Word amid Our Anxiety

From Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann:

The promises roll off your lips
and into our ears:
I will be with you;
I will love you faithfully;
I will be your God;
My covenant is forever.

We count on your words that flow from our ears
to our hearts, and we are glad.

But even while we listen,
we live much of our lives underneath the table.
We read these old stories, and
we know about intrigue and fear and
anxiety and near violence
and deception.
We mostly do not act out our violence
but we imagine and ponder and scheme;
and then we, too, must cover up
and the cover-up ferments;
our lives become complex and burdened.

We keep inventing ourselves and our underneath selves turn out
to be less than adequate
and we wish we were other than we are.
We juggle your good purposes and
our hidden yearnings and
try to serve two masters,
try to live two narratives,
try to live two dreams,
and we are weary.

Because we know our hearts of anxiety so well,
we seem fated to disease.
But because we know your heart of fidelity so well,
we know you will defeat our demons
and make us new.

We know about your abiding fidelity in
Jesus of Nazareth.
Give us patience and steadfastness as we
process the ragged edges of our lives.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Idiots Are Winning

A couple years ago I watched the movie Idiocracy for the first time. Here's my analysis from an old Roundup:
[The movie stars] Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph as two subjects of an Army sleep experiment who end up sleeping for 500 years. When they wake up, they find that somehow the world is completely populated by morons. Crowds are easily riled up and manipulated by someone yelling or by explosions, a Gatorade-type corporation has taken over the FDA and heavily influenced what people eat, Wilson's character takes an aptitude test that includes questions such as, "If you have one bucket that holds two gallons, and another bucket that holds five gallons, how many buckets do you have?" We also find that Costco has become as big as a city and that most chain restaurants now feature prostitution. Anyway, because of Wilson's high score on the aptitude test (he becomes known as the smartest person in the world), he's whisked off to serve on the President's Cabinet to help them solve the country's problems, among them being a lack of crops due to them being irrigated with the Gatorade-type stuff. This future world is excessive, violent, overtaken by a handful of corporations, and the population has become so incredibly lazy that they're unable to consider what's really happening.
I've bolded the reasons why this movie has been on my mind the past few months. It took me a while to figure out whether I liked it; to decide whether it was just stupid lowbrow comedy or brilliant satire. Over time, I've come to see it as the latter. Sure, it's over-the-top, but there are some indications that we aren't that far off from a similar reality.

I want to lift up two books that I've read this year that have been on my mind for similar reasons. The first is Idiot America by Charles Pierce, which looks into the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind recent major events such as the Iraq war and the outcry over Terry Schiavo. In each of these cases, Pierce argues, people go to great lengths to denounce or marginalize experts in order to come to pre-conceived conclusions and pursue political goals.

Sometimes, like with Terry Schiavo, the public's anger gets whipped up regardless of what those who have actually examined the matter closely have to say. In those cases, it doesn't matter because I'm ANGRY AND CONVINCED, DAMMIT! STOP IT WITH YOUR SORCERER'S WAYS!! Ultimately, Pierce argues that we are becoming a society increasingly governed by emotion rather than calm reasoning, in no small part because the people who actually know something about the subject are deemed "elitists." It's what I feel that matters, which is based on intellectual laziness and reactionary thinking, if any thinking at all. No, we'll let politicians, pundits, and the media think for us.

The other book that has been on my mind ever since I read it is Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which is her personal account of surviving the Rwandan genocide. First off, I'm going to go ahead and send up a cry for help here, because I really think that I need to process this book with somebody. It's been over a month, and not a day has gone by without me thinking about it. I cannot fathom how human beings can treat one another like this, and it has caused no small amount of concern within me for those for whom this is a daily reality, as well as whether something like this could ever happen in the United States.

Ilibagiza tells of how first Rwanda's European occupiers and later higher-ups in her own government were able to rile up fellow citizens, including friends and neighbors, to take up machetes and guns and kill their own people. She repeatedly mentions the frenzy in their eyes, the chants that they yell, the affects of alcohol and drug use that perhaps emboldened them to carry out the government's wishes. All of this based on made-up differences and designations that people bought into in the name of ethnic purity and loyalty to country.

If you can't yet see the parallels to current events, I'll go ahead and spell them out.

There's a guy in Florida named Terry Jones. He's pastor of a church called Dove World Outreach Center. You've probably heard of him, because he'd announced a plan to have a Qu'ran burning on September 11th. This sparked statements of outrage and condemnation from all over the world, including from Muslim countries, President Obama, General Patraeus, the Pope, and the National Council of Churches, among so many others. Jones proclaimed that Islam is of the devil and the Qu'ran is an evil book, and thus must be burned. It was pointed out to him how disrespectful such an event would be, how anti-Christian it would be, and how horrible an effect it would have both on the United States' reputation and on the lives of Americans in other countries.

Jones' eventual response? "Well, I'll pray about it, and if they decide to move the Ground Zero mosque, we won't do it." That's paraphrased, but it's the basic reason that he gave.

Okay, let's dissect this statement. The gist here is that if God provides this very specific "sign," which also happens to be something I want to happen besides, I won't carry on with an act that will cause an international shitstorm. I'll ignore all the reasoning provided by world political and religious leaders, and base my decision on whether God gives me this sign. What if the provided reasoning based on our God-given ability to think is the sign?! Why do you need God to do divine jumping jacks and fulfill your preconceived desire? It hardly ever works like that. Read your Bible to find out more.

The Daily Show showed a clip of him being interviewed by Soledad O'Brien, where he had the gall to suggest that moderate Muslims should be supportive of his burning the Qu'ran. She flat out said that that notion was silly. The man has little to no understanding of Islam, but such an understanding matters little to people unwilling to use reason to begin with.

Fortunately, Jones was eventually talked out of going through with his plans. According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, a spiritual advisor was finally able to convince him of the good rational reasons not to do it. Unfortunately, it also contains this nugget:
Pastor Jones, dressed in a dark suit, said at a press conference Friday that he had never read the book he intended to burn. "I have never read the Quran," he said. His opposition to the book, he said, was rooted in his belief that it doesn't contain the truths of the Bible.
Again, there is no understanding of Islam shown here. In fact, he outright admits that he has none. Instead, there was only ever an emotion-based, knee-jerk reaction that he and his supporters thought was good enough.

Speaking of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," it is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque. It is planned to be over two blocks away from Ground Zero (a radius that already includes sanctifying edifices such as strip clubs and fast food restaurants), and will actually be a community center that will have a Muslim prayer space but will be open to groups and activities of multiple faiths. Read the Who We Are section on their website. Yeah, these guys sound awful.

The reasoning being used against it? First off, it will tarnish sacred ground. Again: strip clubs. Second, a mosque that close to Ground Zero will tarnish the memory of 9/11 victims. As it turns out, there's already a mosque close by. Finally comes the blanket belief that all Muslims are terrorists. The group planning this center are of the Sufi strand of Islam, which is very mystical and tolerant. The group planning the center wish, among other things, to bridge and heal relations between Muslims and the West. They are a far cry from the Islamists who carried out the 9/11 attacks. But nobody wants to learn enough in order to make the distinction. All Muslims are terrorists, I'm already ANGRY, and I can't be bothered to look into it more than that.

Hopefully you can already see where Idiocracy and Idiot America apply in each of these scenarios. People's emotions are being whipped up with hardly any appeal to reason, facts, or potential implications. An entire religion is being demonized with hardly any understanding of or desire to understand Islam's basic tenets nor its various strands.

And with all of this based in feelings of anger, resentment, and fear, without any signs that people who've been taken in by emotion related to these issues may ever appeal to calm reasoning or evaluative decision-making, how far off are we from a scenario like Left to Tell? Is it really that extreme of a question? Rwandans were induced to violence on fellow citizens based on these same things.

More than ever, I am incredibly fearful that the idiots are winning. God help us all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I've read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. 90 (or 93)-year-old Jacob Jankowski reflects on his time as veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, which he ran off to join after both his parents died suddenly and left him with nothing. Gruen culls many of the scenes that happen during these flashbacks from real live happenings. All in all, the circus is depicted as a dirty environment where performers and workers are segregated, and one needs to take on a survivalist mindset. The story provides a fun, eye-opening look behind the scenes of circus life during the Great Depression, but is also about the romance that Jacob discovers during his time with Benzini Brothers.

I've been reading Pure Scum by Michael Sares, who is pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver. This is in part his story of how that church got started, but also his reflections on what he's experienced. I first heard about Scum of the Earth (a reference to 1 Corinthians 4:13) because members of the defunct Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy were instrumental in starting it, or have since been in positions of ministry with it. This is a church that truly strives to reach out to the outcasts, the left behind, the people who'd stick out like sore thumbs in conventional, "pretty" churches. As a result, Sares finds himself ministering to punks, Goths, slam poets, hipster artists, and a host of others who have been able to find a spiritual home in this setting. This book has provided yet another reminder to me of the church's constant need to reach out beyond its comfort zones.

We watched The Invention of Lying this week, starring Ricky Gervais as a guy who lives in a world of complete brutal honesty; nobody is capable of lying. In effect, we're treated to exactly what every character is thinking, basically as if people have no inner monologue. Gervais' secretary tells him things like, "I've always hated working for you." A nursing home is called "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People," and when he walks in an employee asks, "Are you here to abandon a loved one?" The absence of lying naturally means the absence of creating fiction: Gervais' character is a screenwriter for Lecture Films, which creates movies that are nothing more than a guy sitting in a chair talking about a historical period. Eventually, Gervais' character figures out that he can lie, which he uses for the usual sort of gain until he realizes that he wants his relationship with his love interest (Jennifer Garner) to be based on truth. This movie also has the most random bunch of cameos I've ever seen: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Jonah Hill, and Stephanie March, among others.

I've been listening to Widespread Panic's Til the Medicine Takes as I slowly accumulate their entire catalogue of studio albums. The drums seem more prominent on this one; it makes me happy.

Here's a video about the Dad Life, yo:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

September

The fall months have started well.

At the risk of completely alienating my readership who doesn't care about college football and barely put up with me last week, Saturday was really, really fun. We had people over to watch the Michigan/UConn game, and I broke out all my Michigan-themed party stuff for the occasion. I've had this stuff for a couple years, but this was my first chance to use it. The game itself far exceeded my expectations, although after last year I know not to get too excited just yet. All the same, Denard Robinson set new Michigan QB records. Here's hoping he 1) can keep up these types of performances, and 2) doesn't get injured.

And that's all I'll say about that, aside from agreeing with these people:



The leaves are already changing, the crispness in the air can already be felt. It's so clearly not August any more around here, and for that I'm glad. This past summer was good to me for the most part, and I found it to be a good, reflective time post-sabbatical, but the fall months bring a change of pace in so many ways.

Not all of the "change-of-pace"-ish things have been welcome or have gone well. Coffeeson has yet another ear infection. Yesterday my office computer wouldn't turn on and the power source probably needs to be replaced. Coffeewife has begun the last year of her Nurse Practitioner degree, which will be good in the long run but produces some additional short-term stress. And I'm wondering about how fall church programming will shake out: whether new stuff will be effective, whether established stuff will hold up, whether I've taken on too much. I pretty much always wonder about that, though.

But in the midst of it all, I find myself celebrating the simple fact that it's September. That simple fact nourishes my soul in the midst of everything else. Break out the hooded sweatshirts, the warm cider, the Halloween decorations.

And keep the Michigan wins coming.

Sorry, I had to.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I Want to Believe

"Any street urchin can shout applause in victory, but it takes character to stand fast in defeat. One is noise - the other, loyalty." - Fielding Yost

The day before Michigan's season begins...I just don't know, man.

Michigan fans used to "know" that certain things were going to happen year in and year out. Things like they'd beat their cupcake/MAC opponents. Things like they'd run over at least the majority of Big Ten opponents. Things like they'd maybe, you know, beat Ohio State now and then. Things like they'd be in the hunt for yet another Big Ten Championship and an upper-tier bowl game.

We don't "know" these things any more. We haven't "known" some of those things since 2006...we haven't "known" some others since earlier than that. It feels like forever since we've "known" much of anything.

Heading into this latest season, I do know a couple things:

~3-9 in 2008, 5-7 in 2009, no bowl either year, 1-5 in rivalry games, bottom of the Big Ten both years
~While the offense looked better last year, the defense was horrible. 3 defensive coordinators in as many years may have been a factor. Horrendous defensive recruiting during 05-07 may have been another. Attrition during the coaching transition was yet another. The defense also lost their three best players to graduation or the draft.
~The media blows up every real, perceived, or fabricated RichRod misstep.
~QB Tate Forcier, C David Molk, and potential starting RB Vincent Smith all had to recover from injury/surgery during the offseason.
~A handful of guys expected to contribute in the secondary this year or very soon after have transferred, couldn't get in due to grades, or are injured.
~They couldn't even beat Illinois last year. ILLINOIS.
~Opposing fanbases are laughing and radiating a tremendous amount of schadenfreude and hubris.
~RichRod recently commented that when he took over, he inherited guys who had not only never played in his system, but in any system. Most of them had barely seen the field because they were behind Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, etc. He really has had to rebuild the team.

I know a couple other things, too:

~The offense was #3 in scoring in the Big Ten last year, and now everybody is a year older.
~RichRod brought in more highly rated recruits in 2008 and 2009 than Lloyd Carr did from 05-07.
~Continuity at the defensive coordinator position.
~Continuity at the QB position.
~If it wasn't for Forcier's freshman-ness, The Game's score last year at least would have been closer, if not happier.
~Many of Michigan's opponents are rebuilding this year.
~RichRod's teams tend to make a "second-year jump." Since there was a lot of starting from scratch in 09 from 08, this is probably the year that that happens...if it happens.
~There's been a reported increase in the team taking ownership of itself: seniors becoming leaders, cohesion forming. Two years' worth of everyone around you giving you crap will do that.
~Denard Robinson is FAST. And he may have improved enough over the past year to be the starting QB.

Take those two sets of things and what do you get? You get...I don't even know, man. There are still so many unknowns; so many things that can't be counted on or measured until they start playing actual football. Past performance does not guarantee future results. That can be good news given Michigan's last two seasons. That can also be bad news regarding the "second-year jump" thing. The lack of knowing has made the past few summers long and agonizing in that sense.

I do know one other thing. I know I'll still be pulling for this team every Saturday, including and especially in person when they play Bowling Green on September 25th and Michigan State on October 9th (twice in one year...BOO YAH). And, of course, ESPECIALLY on November 27th.

But what are they really going to do this year? I don't know, man. But I want to believe that the list of good things that I know will overshadow the bad things that I know, and that they can at least get to a bowl, give RichRod another year, and really get going in 2011.

I want to believe that this is the year that they turn the corner. I want to "know" certain things again. But I have to wait and see.

Go Blue.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Michigan-Penn State '05: Henne to Manningham

I miss a lot of the guys from this team:

Save The Game

Update: The Game is still set to be the last game the next two seasons. But after that, who knows?

On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State played a football game. They do this every year, of course. Many years before that point, the Big Ten title and/or a trip to the Rose Bowl has been decided by this game. The natural rivalry due to proximity has only been heightened on a regular basis by these sorts of raised stakes.

In 2006, however, things couldn't get much bigger. Both teams were undefeated and ranked #1 and #2. Not only would this game decide the Big Ten Championship, but it would also decide one of the contenders to play for the BCS National Championship. Everything but that NC was on the line that night.

Ohio State won by three points. It was everything people had hyped it to be. In the following weeks, one of the hot topics was whether the two teams should meet again, this time for the title. This game, some argued, had shown that it could have gone either way, and perhaps no other team would be able to step up and make its case. Many others argued against it, citing logical problems. For instance, if Michigan ended up winning the second game, would they then need to play a third and final tie-breaker? Michigan had their shot, others said. It's someone else's turn now.

(Florida, whom many wrote off before the game was played, stomped Ohio State into the ground, 41-14 in the title game. Just thought I'd remind everyone. Florida used a fully-functioning version of the spread offense, with depth on both sides of the ball and upperclassmen in most positions, to do it. Just thought I'd remind everyone of that, too.)

The arguments made against Michigan getting a rematch spring to mind as the Big Ten, which is now technically the Big Twelve, deliberate on how to split the Conference into two divisions. One of the biggest issues being considered here is whether to split Michigan and Ohio State into separate divisions, which would open the possibility of the two teams meeting again in the Conference Championship game at the end of the season. To be honest, it's all about TV ratings and money: getting these two to play a second time for all the Conference stakes would be the higher-ups' dream come true. The Game is one of the defining features of the Big Ten, so they want to maximize mileage.

Unfortunately, one of the probable by-products of this scenario would be that The Game would be moved to mid-season. It would no longer happen during "rivalry week," when most other big rivalry games happen. What would it be like for a huge rivalry game to take place mid-season, with nothing really at stake besides bragging rights and the limited possibility that they'd see each other again at the end of the season? I'll tell you: it wouldn't be as huge. Not even close.

When Michigan and Ohio State meet for their annual clash at seasons' end, there is more at stake more often than not. Even when nothing is at stake, the entire season builds to that game. Everyone on both sides anticipates its arrival, prepares for it in various ways even in the midst of preparing for other opponents. Beating that team matters most, and thus that game gets circled on the calendar. That sense of anticipation would be lost if played halfway through the season.

Aside from that, what about the logical points that were brought up in late 2006 that kept the two teams from having a rematch? If Ohio State beats Michigan in their mid-season match-up, but then they meet in the title game and Michigan wins, what happens? How could Michigan be considered the true Big Ten Champion by beating OSU if the earlier game had gone the other way? The reasoning that was used nearly four years ago is now being ignored in the name of short-sighted corporate greed.

Now, watch this. Say Ohio State and Michigan play in the same division. Say they've both run the table and are set to meet in The Game in mid-November (BEFORE Thanksgiving, thank you very much). So they're both undefeated, they hate each other besides, and they both want a spot in the Big Ten title game. That's not big enough? Having to get past the other to compete for the Conference's biggest prize, along with either a spot in the Rose Bowl or a spot in the NC game, wouldn't be enough to give that game the hype that TV people want it to have? Even if the team that makes it into the Big Ten game loses, they may get another BCS game while the team that had to watch from home gets some other less prestigious bowl.

I know, I'm thinking like a fan of the rivalry who actually wants to preserve The Game and not like a guy who gives a crap about ratings or whatever. Silly me.

If Bo and Woody were around to see this, they'd rip somebody's head off. And not just because they'd be zombies.